Western Australia Fishing Industry Council
The Western Australian Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) was created 40 years ago by the seafood industry. The Council represents the entire wild and cultured harvest, post harvest, and retail seafood and pearling industries of Western Australia. WAFIC is active in promoting training, seafood quality, and occupational health and safety initiatives to the industry and in funding major research and development projects within Western Australia. Additionally, it recognizes the pursuit of excellence within the fishing industry with its Fishing Industry Awards presented every two years. The Western Australian rock lobster fishery is notable for being the first fishery in the world to achieve Marine Stewardship Council certification, evidence of its commitment to sound management and maintaining sustainability.
Richard Stevens joined WAFIC in 1993 as the Research and Development Manager and was charged with promoting a culture of R&D in the industry and discerning the management implications of research, which fishermen often find difficult to understand and critique.
Seafood Choices Alliance: How have you seen the industry change during your lifetime?
Richard Stevens: The greatest change has been the recognition that a common property resource must be protected, and from an industry point of view that is best achieved with secure property rights that encourage conservation.
What are the primary species fished in Western Australia? How would you characterize this fishery?
Western Australia is characterized by having 14,000 km of coastline and just 1,400 professional fishing licenses. The principal harvest is Western Rock Lobster, South Sea Pearls, prawns, scallops and abalone. Traditionally these have all been low-volume, high-value products, mainly for export. There is a small harvest of high-quality finfish, which is valued highly by the local community, and a developing aquaculture industry.
Which WAFIC initiatives have you found to be most successful and why?
Having the first fishery in the world to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council has been a definite highlight. Ensuring that industry has funded the research to underpin management so that all of our major fisheries comply with the Federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act has also been an achievement. WAFIC has also been heavily involved in developing the world’s leading food safety standards and the world’s first Fish Names Standard, with nearly 5,000 species now having only one common name for each scientific name.
WAFIC has moved from primarily protecting fishermen’s rights to protecting the consumer’s right of access to the resource; eight out of ten Western Australian seafood lovers buy their seafood locally, and protecting and securing their supply and public confidence in supply are critical to keeping industry in business.
How would you describe your philosophy on ocean conservation?
As an Applied Biologist, I understand that there are very few, if any, ‘natural’ ecosystems, i.e. ecosystems that have not been affected by man. Therefore they must be managed. The question for the public is what level of modification the environment will tolerate in order to enjoy the benefits of that modification. WAFIC has joined with conservationists, as it did during the MSC certification process, to determine how harvests can be maintained with minimum modification. So, for example, we harvest prawns from World Heritage-listed Shark Bay, knowing that it does not disturb seagrass beds, has little or no by-catch and that biodiversity is protected. It is the philosophy that we extend to all fisheries in the state and promote in Australia and overseas.
Have you noticed any recent trends in the seafood industry? What impacts do you think this will have on your organization?
The recognition that seafood, and particularly omega-three rich seafood, is of enormous benefit to the health and well being of people has been an enormous change. So has the consumers’ interest in where their seafood comes from and whether it is fished sustainably. As our state’s population has grown, so has the debate on how our seafood resources should be shared amongst the professional, recreational and tourism sectors. One of WAFIC’s strategies in influencing public and political opinion has been to create a website (seafoodlovers.com.au) to begin a new conversation between industry and seafood consumers, providing resources ranging from help on preparing and cooking seafood to how our fisheries are managed, and including background information on current industry issues. Part of the strategy to engage seafood consumers on a local and international level includes our policy to encourage fisheries to undergo independent certification like that offered by the MSC. We hope this will assist seafood consumers and governments worldwide to truly value sustainable seafood, which will translate in continued access to the resource and increased financial return for the harvest.
The global financial crisis has also had an impact on our industry, as Western Australia is a producer of low-volume/high-value seafood. The specter of tariff and non-tariff trade barriers is concerning as are spurious ‘conservation’ measures, such as food miles, which would tax sustainable harvests in places like Australia and New Zealand, ignoring the fact that exports of seafood merely back-load ships and aircraft that bring freight and people into the country. In the longer term, changes to climate, in a state dominated by a major south-flowing current (the Leeuwin Current), may have a significant impact. This may not necessarily be wholly negative, but we will watch changes to the current and primary and secondary productivity very closely.
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